"The indie scene is completely dead" – My Life Story’s Jake Shillingford hasn’t lost his sparkle

Last month, Britpop’s most glamorous band, My Life Story, made a triumphant comeback at Koko, performing their 1994 debut album, Mornington Crescent, in its entirety. Backstage, Sean Hannam spoke to front man Jake Shillingford about the birth of Britpop, Camden nights and why he used to dress like Tommy Steele – even when he nipped into Sainsburys.

If there was ever a time when we needed Jake Shillingford and his orch-pop army My Life Story more than ever, then it’s now.
Indie music is in a dire state, made up of dour, identikit ‘landfill’ bands with no glamour, stage presence, ambition and – let’s face it – memorable tunes.
So, thank god, after two years, they’ve reformed, principally to play a special live show at Camden’s Koko (formerly the Camden Palace).
Over 15 years ago, Jake wrote the songs that would end up on their 1994 debut album Mornington Crescent while working on the door at the venue. Now, fittingly, he’s back with his band, playing those very tunes in the place where he penned them. For one night only, My Life Story are performing Mornington Crescent in its entirety – including some songs that have never ever been played live before.
To paraphrase one of their early songs, they’re going to stand triumphant. With the current indie scene how it is, it’s just like being back in the early ’90s, during the beginnings of Britpop, when Jake took on grunge armed with a cheeky smile, a kiss curl, high kicks, splendid suits and a bunch of bold, brassy, bombastic and grandiose tunes that sounded like Scott Walker and Anthony Newley on a tour of London’s seedy underbelly.
To put it quite simply, it’s great to have them back.
“The indie scene is completely dead, with terrible, terrible bands like Scouting For Girls and The Wombats. Any scene gets the life thrashed out of it. At the end of it, it’s made up of lots of bands who aren’t really part of the scene who get signed to major labels – they’re mimicking the bands that went before,” says Jake, speaking backstage before the band’s big comeback show.
“Now pop music is back and people are writing really good pop songs – Lady Gaga is quite simply head and shoulders above anyone else at the moment and she’s actually a really experimental artist.”
So if he’s such a fan of contemporary pop music, rather than indie, how does Jake feel about The X Factor?
“I love The X Factor – I think it’s a brilliant TV show. I’ve got nothing against it – it’s a pantomime and I’ve always loved panto and theatrics. What’s interesting is that to a certain extent it’s choking the A & R process. Who would have ever dreamed that there would be a TV show about A & R being watched by 10 million people. I find it amazing that people are interested in the process of A & R.
“Ironically, of course. you’ve got A & R being watched by 10 million people on ITV, but half the A & R men in this country are being made redundant because the music industry’s fucked. It’s an incredibly interesting time at the moment.”

Birth of Britpop

It was an interesting time, too, back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when Jake was hanging out in Camden and sowing the seeds for what would turn out be the birth of My Life Story and then, later on, the Britpop movement.
“I used to work on the door of the Camden Palace for two hours, earning ten pounds an hour – in cash. I was employed there because I was becoming quite well known in the Camden Town area in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It was way before Britpop, but there were little seeds going on.  I used to hang around with Paul Tunkin – the DJ who started Blow Up,” he recalls.
“At the time, Mornington Crescent Tube station was closed. I was living in Belsize Park and I used to travel down a few stops on the Northern Line – a lot of the Tube references in my lyrics come from around then. At the time, there was a campaign by the London Underground to put art and poetry on the Tube. If you look at the back of the album sleeve [of Mornington Crescent] you can see the bits of rubble from where they tried to rebuild Mornington Crescent. It was like the rebuilding of Camden – previously Camden had become a bit of an original R & B place.People like Buddy Guy and Junior Wells played in Dingwalls.  At that time, a lot of us did feel that something new was going to happen – we just weren’t too sure what it was.
“The problem was that in the Camden Palace, they were a bit confused. They’d play Nirvana and Pearl Jam and then The
Wonderstuff and then some house record or something shoegazing like Paris Angels or Slowdive. It didn’t seem to fit together – the late ’80s and early ’90s was a funny time. There didn’t seem to be a focal point and there didn’t seem to be any bands coming out of London. The only band from London that I knew was Carter USM.
“With the early Britpop movement  – before Oasis came along – people like Graham Coxon from Blur and I would go to bars and discuss about trying to bringing a Swinging London back – just like Austin Powers! Britpop was totally premeditated – it didn’t happen by accident.”

Style and panache

Central to this movement was the desire to bring back some style and panache to pop music, particularly when it came to fashion.
“The journalist Taylor Parkes wrote an article in Melody Maker in ’93 or ’94 in which he said he’d seen me shopping in Sainsburys, wearing a Tommy Steele type blazer and winkle pickers,” laughs Jake.
“He said, ‘this is going to be the new movement and these are the lengths people are going to to dress up. Jake Shillingford was seen in Sainsburys buying a sandwich and some fruit, dressed like he was about to go on stage,’.”
So, how does it feel to be back on stage, performing an album that’s 15 years old?
” ‘Cause we recorded Mornington Crescent so early in the ’90s, I actually think it sounds quite ’80s. We were still using Pet Shop Boys-style samples,” muses Jake.
“You have to place it in context – some people listen to it and now don’t really get it, but at the time it stood out because it was completely different from anything that was going on at the time. It was a bit of a risk. We’ve never played all of the songs from it live. For example, we’ve never played Bullets Fly live – partly because I couldn’t play guitar and sing at the same time!”

Reunion shows

So, this is the first My Life Story Show for two years. Can we expect any more reunion shows?
“Lots of bands reform for lots of different reasons. Someone like the Pixies, who’d you think would be all mates and reform for the hell of it, actually vehemently dislike each other. They’re doing it for the money – as are The Police – they hate each other,” says Jake.
“With us, we’re doing it for the music, but, ultimately, we’re not a band – we’re a community. We’ve all maintained friendships over the years – it’s just a chance for us to meet up. If I said to everyone in the band, ‘let’s all meet up in a pub and go for a curry’, they wouldn’t do it, so I have to do a gig instead.”
So what does the future hold for Jake and My Life Story? Will he still be high kicking  and camping it up on stage in 15 years’ time?
“You have to be careful with nostalgia, but there’s no reason why we can’t keep on playing. Performing in this size venue [Koko] was as big as My Life Story got anyway. What we will not do is milk it,  like a lot of bands do. They come back, play a big gig and then you end up seeing them at The Garage or something.
“My new thing is that I’m really getting into being a songwriter. Written Large [his solo album] was the beginning of that process. I’m really pleased that Written Large and all the Exile Inside [his post My Life Story project] is up on Spotify now. The next step for me is to write for other artists. I’ve been talking to Polly Scattergood, who’s just signed to Mute, about writing together.
“My Life Story’s biggest influence was the Phil Spector sound. Now he’s out of the picture, I quite like the idea of being a svengali in my old age.”

Picture credit: DOSFOTOS


One thought on “"The indie scene is completely dead" – My Life Story’s Jake Shillingford hasn’t lost his sparkle

  1. Anonymous December 13, 2009 / 11:36 am

    "The indie scene is completely dead" – My Life Story’s Jake Shillingford hasn’t lost his sparkle – read my interview here


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